Christians have their seminaries, and Muslims their madrassas – but where is the school for the aspirant Aztec fundamentalist? I speak of myself, of course. Home study is all very well, and I have tried to be diligent, but in the absence of a collegiate setting, I am falling prey to the lure of rival, and surely heretical, faiths.
This little complaint was occasioned by my stumbling upon an account of a Mayan rebirthing ceremony. True Aztec believers, even the most wishy-washy, should guard against falling into the Mayan embrace. And yet… is there not something irresistible in this Times report of 2001?
The ceremony took place at dusk. Mr Blair and his wife, wearing bathing costumes, were led to the Temazcal, a brick-coloured pyramid on the south end of the beach… Ms Aguilar told the Blairs to bow and pray to the four winds as Mayan prayers were read out. Each side of the building is decorated with Mayan religious symbols: the sun and baby lizards representing spring and childhood; a bird to signify adolescence, summer and freedom; a crab to represent maturity and autumn; and a serpent – the most sacred in the Mayan Indian culture – to symbolise winter and transformation…
Within the Temazcal, a type of Ancient Mayan steam bath, herb-infused water was thrown over heated lava rocks, to create a cleansing sweat and balance the Blairs’ ‘energy flow’.
Ms Aguilar chanted Mayan songs, told the Blairs to imagine that they could see animals in the steam and explained what such visions meant. They were told the Temazcal was like the womb and those participating in the ritual must confront their hopes and fears before ‘rebirth’ and venturing outside. The Blairs were offered watermelon and papaya, then told to smear what they did not eat over each other’s bodies along with mud from the Mayan jungle outside.
The prime minister, on holiday just a month before the 11 September attacks, is understood to have made a wish for world peace.
Before leaving, the Blairs were told to scream out loud to signify the pain of rebirth. They then walked hand in hand down the beach to swim in the sea.
Quoted in How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World : A Short History Of Modern Delusions by Francis Wheen (2004). Elsewhere in this splendid book, we are reminded that Margaret Thatcher was a devotee of mystical ‘electric baths’.